Sunday 26 June 2016

A Prickly Subject?

Just beautifully made hedgehogs and obviously different from standard designs
A short one today after a Midlands puzzle party yesterday and having to spend some time today with Mrs S. After the last few days with great upheaval in the UK, I have to bring up a prickly subject.....NO! Not Brexit! For better or worse the British people have made a decision and we will have to live with that but my subject matter here is not spiky politics. I want to discuss hedgehogs....the caged variety.

A very long time ago I wrote about the Canary in cageOwl in cage and various other caged shapes and critters. Wil Strijbos at one time also had for sale a number of other cartoon-like Japanese characters in cages but I passed on these.

Dragon AND a japanese box
Recently some pictures posted by Radek Micopulos of Rademic Puzzles showed up on Facebook - they were beautifully crafted in metal and definitely of interest. After Oli got a couple to play with and raved about them I also had to have a try. A quick email and a bit of back and forth ending in PayPal, led to me receiving a package on Wednesday.

There were 2 that looked fun - neither were the classic hedgehog in which the trapped animal needs to be manipulated between the bars of the cage so I chose them. The first one that I tried is the Gen:

Gen is made of anodised aluminium and weighs 90g. It is 49mm diameter and 75mm tall. The Hedgehog has 6 different length spines and is rated with a difficulty level of 3 out of 5. On the product page Radek describes it like this:
Hedgehog in a cage GEN: Puzzle, which could be also called puzzle of a new generation, because it uses a totally new and a unique way of solution. It's got incorporated a new principle, which involves about 10 correct moves. The task is to remove the hedgehog with the hole in a shape of keyhole! you don't believe it? Try it! It's surprisingly easier to get a hedgehog out of the cage than inside. Hedgehog has a medium difficulty, but even after you solve it, you will come back and try it again its playful principle. The puzzle is inspired by the design of the human gene!
The description is quite correct - the solution is very new compared to what I have seen before. It is actually not terribly difficult but is definitely a fun one. It clanks about and I received my first laser stare shortly after opening the packet. It takes a few minutes of exploration to realise the mechanism and even then the removal is not an automatic find. There are quite a few possible variations for entry into the sequence and many of them end in blockage. Finding the correct sequence is just a matter of exploration and stumbling across the answer. After about 15 minutes I had the puzzle in pieces:

Didn't take long but good fun
Putting it back is possibly just a matter of reversing the process....except I could not visualise which part was popped out first or last and couldn't work out how to put it back. I just fiddled for a while and suddenly it went back - I did need to try a few entry positions but even now cannot tell whether there is just a single solution or not.

It has taken me about 7 or 8 solves to now work out exactly which spike to begin with and how to move it towards the solution and I still cannot tell whether there is a single solution! It is great fun and a really nice worry bead to play with - I cannot wait to play with the other one. A word of warning about the Axis puzzle. The movement of the top and bottom of the puzzle is very well lubricated and the puzzle does feel quite oily. Once I have wiped it down I intend to have a good play. Oli was really VERY enthusiastic about this one!

These are high quality puzzles for a very reasonable price - You really should drop Radek an email and ask to buy some - he's great to deal with and the prices are very reasonable.

Sunday 19 June 2016

Pachinko Box - A Beautiful Discovery

Pachinko Box
I'm sure you all knew this was coming - after all Allard published his review a few days ago! We have known about the Pachinko box for several years as Wil Strijbos has discussed it with quite a number of members of the puzzling fraternity for quite some time. It always appeared to be not quite ready and many of us thought it was a myth only inside the devious man's head. However at the King's day puzzle party that Wil hosted this year an almost ready prototype was shown around and the buzz amongst us got louder and Wil even sent out an email newsletter telling us it was about to be released. Many of us held our breaths and just a few weeks ago that fateful email came out and many of us drew in a VERY sharp intake of breath - this was a very costly puzzle! Wil went on to explain that the cost to himself to produce it was significantly higher than expected and in order not to make a loss, he had to charge such a high amount.

Now I know that Wil is not one to fleece us, over the years he has shown me that he deals very fairly with me and with others and I will always take him at his word. Puzzlers are a trusting bunch (except when it comes to solutions) and that trust is earned through years of treating people well. So after my initial gulp and sly look at Mrs S to make sure that she had not seen my gasp, I sent off the email placing my order - the decision must have taken me at least 60 seconds! After all I am Wil's official troubleshooter so I need to have a copy of all his significant puzzles to allow me to troubleshoot. I reckon I must get 1-5 emails a week asking for information or help and without playing with them I couldn't provide that help.

Streetwise Puzzles Inc.
    General Manager : Iwahiro
    Product Manager : Tom
    Approbation Manager : Louis
    Trouble Shooter : Kevin
    Logarithmic Analyser : Goetz/Nick
    Jointly Responsible : William

That is my justification to Mrs S and I am sticking with it. Whack! Ouch! I'm glad you're so understanding dear!

Sunday 12 June 2016

Not Just a Lowly 6 Piece Burr!

Just 6 piece burrs? Definitely not!
From the left... Wallace, Gwendoline, Thrym and Gromit
I still have 'Manflubola' and have massive burns, bruises and bleeding ears because it mutated and the present Mrs S now has 'Shebola' and is blaming me for it. I promise that I didn't share any of the technicolour mucus with her as she wouldn’t let me! Of course I still went to work and did my on-call last Monday as it was probably safest for me to get out of the house rather than risk being at home and being murdered by “she who has a lethal stare”. On top of being ill it was time, yet again, for me to write our triple consultant on-call rotas and with all the summer annual leave requests it was a bit of a nightmare that took me 9 hours yesterday. All in all, I haven't been able to do much puzzling this week…..except for a few burrs - I couldn't resist those! I am a bit stuck on the Canal House from Jakub/Pelikan and have put it down for a while to allow a break and coming back to it with fresh eyes later. There are still copies of all the latest burrs available so get them whilst you can!

The pic at the top of the post is a wonderful series by Stephan Baumegger. Three of them were in my top 10 favourite puzzles from last year. They all look like variants of the standard 6 piece burr but they are much more fun than the normal burr. They do consist of 6 pieces but that's pretty much where the similarity ceases. Most 6 piece burrs (I have three very very beautiful sets (see number 7 from the top 10)) are based on a 2x2x6 or 2x2x8 grid for each stick and so there are severe limitations on the shape of the pieces that can be made and the moves that are required to assemble or disassemble them. Rob Stegmann has a huge discourse on the possible shapes of burr sticks and is probably the world's greatest authority on them - his site is well worth reading through. This series of burrs from Stephan is of great interest to me because the sticks are actually based on a 3x3x8 grid which allows for hugely complex constructions and effectively allows him to design a moving interlocking maze. They are less difficult than the 18 piece high level burrs because they have less pieces and a lower number of moves to solve them but I find them absolutely fascinating because I love the exploration involved in solving the maze and much of it is open to be seen and explored.

Gwendoline (I have no idea why)
At the end of last year Stephan showed me a burrtools file for a fourth in the series which he had called Gwendoline (I have no idea why!) and said that it was unlikely that it would ever be made because the pieces were just too complex and difficult to make. They would probably not be stable. After I admired it and the complexity of the pieces, I said that if he ever was to make a copy then he should put my name down for it as I loved this type of puzzle and wanted to continue with the series. I heard nothing for several months and then was surprised and delighted when he told me that he was going to be able to make it and he also offered me a few others that I had admired on his FB page. How could I resist? Much to Mrs S’ disgust, I couldn’t!

Gwendoline was the first one I played with about 6 or 8 weeks ago and it took me about ½ to ¾ of an hour to dismantle it and the reassembly after scrambling the pieces was another hour. It’s a wonderful maze to explore and a fabulous piece of the puzzle maker’s art. The pieces are phenomenally complex and I see why Stephan thought that it was impossible but it has proved to be very stable and a fantastic worry bead to play with.

Gwendoline pieces - incredibly complex
I have made videos of others in the series and I know that a few of you like to see them in video form so have a look below. Warning - if you don't want to see a spoiler then don't click play on the video!

Next up is another fantastic burr that Stephan sent me called Backflip:

I originally thought that it was more than 6 pieces but I very quickly realised that this one also is a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3x7 grid. It is therefore almost part of the series above. However when I began to explore I realised that this was less of a maze and more of a serially interlocking puzzle. After just a few minutes I had made a few moves and couldn't find any more. It took another 15 minutes of staring at it to see that a certain push would split the puzzle partially apart and then after another move or 2 I had this:

2 halves of Backflip
The two 3 piece halves come apart quite easily to reveal their beauty with distinct layers of Wenge and Maple and hence the name Backflip. Several of the pieces look very similar and I had inadvertently mixed them up on my lap-sleeping cat!

Showing off the front and back sides of the sticks - a brilliant design!

What followed last night was a good hour of swearing under my breath to work out firstly which way to group them into 2 sets and then how to interlock them in a way that will let the 2 halves come back together. This is some serious fun (at least I can say that in retrospect) and is another that I can heartily recommend. It’s not part of that series but very nearly.

Divorce - an odd name?
Amulet from Adin
Another burr that I solved this week is Divorce - this one is not on his Puzzlewillbeplayed page and so if you want to see it then you’ll need to buy a copy from Stephan. I originally thought this was another oddly designed 6 piece burr with extra pieces added to it a bit like the fabulous design called Amulet that was a gift from Adin which also made it into my top 10.

After seeing Divorce in the flesh I wondered whether it was a caged 6 piece burr. However when I started to play with it I realised that it was a very different beast entirely - it was a 6 piece burr in a cage that splits apart. There are a few blind ends but like many of Stephan’s designs there is a lovely pathway through the puzzle with the main challenge being to work out what move goes next - it’s almost a sequential discovery puzzle but without tools. I was playing with this at work when after a fair while it split apart and my mouth must have dropped open because the nursing staff around me started to laugh at my expression. I quickly put it back together again and went back and forth to this point a few times but never dared to go any further at work. I now understand the reason for the name - a married couple are a very complex series of interlocking parts and it takes some real determination to split them apart. That evening at home, whilst trying to block out the sound of Mrs S coughing her lungs onto the work surface, I split it apart and took a couple of quick iPhone photos of the two halves (just as an emergency clue in case I got totally stuck later) and marvelled at the design.

2 parts of the divorce - like a married couple?

I finally dared to take it completely apart to take my final photo of the scrambled the pieces. Just as in a separated couple, the 2 halves don't fall apart but it is possible to make it happen. Again, as in a divorce it is with some determination perfectly possible to put it all back together but it takes a fairly good memory and a good bit of determination. I do think that puzzle assembly is easier than people assembly although the madmen I work with seem to dismantle people quite regularly - it is amazing what you can do with a knife and a powersaw! The reassembly of the puzzle is great fun - there is the initial challenge (like Backflip) of organising the 2 halves correctly and believe me, when you’re not very bright like me, this is a huge challenge!

If these are pieces of a divorced couple then these must be organs?
Now I'm getting silly - I blame the Manflubola!
My lesson for today (as well as my profound statements on marital therapy) is not to look down on burrs with a low number of pieces - a “simple 6 piece burr” may not be quite as simple as you might think. It is well worth asking the craftsmen about some of their designs with lower numbers of pieces - they can be very interesting indeed! Another great example of that was the Gravity puzzle that I described last week - it is a delight to explore!

Have a nice weekend everybody - keep well and try to avoid either being pulled apart or falling apart (save that for the puzzles).

Sunday 5 June 2016

Yet Again a Solution without Understanding!

Gordian Knot taken to another level
The size and quality of this blog post may well be reduced today - I have a hideous mix of Man flu and Ebola aka "Manflubola" which has resulted in large quantities of technicolour mucus and assorted nasty noises emanating from my person. This has very much annoyed the present Mrs S and she has utilised the laser burning stare many many times. Luckily she has decided that I am too infectious to get close to and so a Whack! Ouch! has not occurred.....yet! To make things worse, it is her birthday today and if I know what is good for me, I had better pay her some attention and not spend too long on puzzle stuff. If there are no more blog posts after this then please have her arrested and search for my may be in pieces!

To compare
Way back in 2012 I published an article that I have referred to many times over the subsequent years about how a puzzle is only really properly solved when it is understood well enough to be able to do it repeatedly and without error. The puzzle that led to this statement was none other than the wire version of the Gordian Knot (not to be mixed up with the plastic board burr bearing the same name). The original puzzle does not seem to be stocked any more by Puzzle Master in their wire puzzles selection which is a shame because it was a terrific challenge. It took me a very long time to be able to say that I had solved the Gordian knot and I was pleased to be able to put it away knowing that it was truly done. At the end of last year I received a new consignment of wire puzzles from Wang Yulong in China and have been working my way through them but reached the point where I was well and truly stuck. I put them down (I had left them in my work bag and forgot about them) whilst I focussed on various burrs and other new acquisitions but the "call of the wired" always kept me picking them up and wistfully failing to solve them. One of the most frightening of all was a more complex version of the Gordian knot which had extra loops on it just to make it harder! I have played with this for months and always shied away when things began to get very tangled up. Eventually, I couldn't stand it any longer and made a determined attempt to solve it. I knew from my previous puzzle experience and from reading Goetz' compendium of N-ary puzzles that this was supposed to be a logical sequence based on Gary binary code. Looking through Goetz' pages I could see that this was very similar to his Gordian Knot 6 and and the Electro 1 which are Ternary.

Over the last week I played and played with it getting a few steps in and getting confused and ending up back at the beginning by accident or getting a few steps further and being a coward, backing out. Finally I made a concerted effort under the influence of a cold remedy and a large glass of wine and suddenly the string was out!

I have absolutely no idea how I did that
Mrs S was doubly annoyed with me because along with all the snorting noises I had been making I let out a big shout which ended in a coughing fit and upsetting her concentration! After I recovered from the laser burn, I put the puzzle down so that I could take a photo the next day. I did not feel the urge to reassemble it straight away before I forgot how because I had absolutely no idea what I had done! As usual I prove that I am not terribly bright!

The following evening after the photos, I started to reassemble it and was surprised that I could get about half way without any problem and then could go no further. Each time I tried to progress I ended up with the string removed. This was a problem that was starting to panic me because I had no solution diagram and as a bespoke puzzle none would be available for download! It took me 2 days to reassemble it with much effing and blinding and when it was back together I had another quick drink of wine and swore that I would not be taking it apart again! Yet......the lure of the puzzle.....and I remembered my initial article and picked it up again.

I NEED one of these!
I am now able to remove the loop and put it back pretty much every time by just sort of weaving through but not really understanding it. So far I have done it about 10 times (it takes me a good 20-30 minutes each time) and am no closer to understanding the N-ary/logical sequence in it. The one thing I love about the N-ary puzzles are the discovery of the magic sequence and then using a rhythm to solve it. Last week's Delirium 13 review was all about the sequence being understood and followed.....for a VERY long time. In the end I emailed Goetz about it and as a good puzzle friend (I was his exchange assistant at the London IPP) he provided me with a very long and detailed explanation of the puzzle. I am having to work through it slowly because his mathematical skills are much greater than mine. I haven't reproduced it here but may do so in the future with his permission but he is thinking of turning it into an article for the CFF journal. All in all the Gordian knot and it's more advanced brother is a brilliant puzzle. They occasionally come up at auction made by Rick Irby and are well worth acquiring if you can. I now need to find some way to acquire the even more complex Devil's cradle which is one level higher with 4 pairs of loops - if anyone has a copy to sell then please Contact Me.

My friend Jakub Dvořák of the New Pelikan Workshop posted on Facebook that he had a couple of new additions coming up for sale. Of course I couldn't resist them and they arrived yesterday. My advice is to go there and BUY THEM NOW! These puzzles are simply stunning.

Gravity was designed by Tim Alkema, a relative newcomer to burr design, and this one is just fabulous (I reviewed his Padlock Burr last week). It is not a super tough puzzle at level but has something really unique and fun about it because it requires you to visualise the hidden 2x2x2 block inside and move it around under gravity to unlock the piece movement. Made from Cherry, Wenge, Purpleheart, Acacia and Padouk it is simply gorgeous and the block piece is a wonder to behold.
Tim said this about it:
"Gravity has easily become one of my favorite designs because of its unique and interesting solution. I was inspired to make this design after receiving so much interest in another one of my designs involving a hidden piece. I think Dario Uri put it best: “The title already explains the type of movement. During the solution process the small cube "falls" four times moving invisibly inside other pieces. Fantastic!"
 I agree with Dario - Fantastic! Putting it back together is just as much fun! No need for Burrtools.

Just look at that block!
The other very unusual design was one I really couldn't resist - the Canal House designed by N.J. Damstra. Made from Cherry, Wenge, Purpleheart, Maple and Padouk the burr is in the shape of a lovely house and is a mixture of boards and burr sticks:

This puzzle is a limited run puzzle and will sell out quite quickly so you may want to grab it soon. Even Mrs S has agreed that it is beautiful and can be allowed out of the study (renamed as the Puzzletorium). I have yet to solve it - the design was made with the aim of being tough but not impossibly hard and this is perfect for me. As I explained last week a good puzzle is not just about sheer number of moves, it is also about exploration, fun and beauty. This really fits the bill.

Whilst you are at the Pelikan site, have a look t the superhero burrs by Dan Fast - they are also limited edition and some are still available. I have yet to solve Batman (I'm stuck) and haven't tried Superman yet!

Now I had better get back to Mrs S before she loses her temper and finds some way to replace me with a more attentive husband!